Upon a Changing Path, Searching

by Philip Adair

Chapter 1

    My eyelids part, inches from my face I see his infamous death stare. Recoiling instinctively, I know what this stare can ignite. Each breath shortens as the anxiety builds in my chest. I attempt to swallow all the nervousness and ask him, Hey daddid you need something? I fail. Setting a fire to his stare he's now looking through me transparently with anger. He works his way around my bed, blocking the path to my door. He inches towards my bed quickly so I sit up and scoot off the opposite side. Jumping clear over my bed, he lands loudly cornering me. Frantically I ask him, Dad what's wrong? A terribly sharp pain in my temple flares and I fall to my knees holding my head. I don't need to see him swing to know it was a backhand. Being all too familiar with the way they felt. Past experience taught me that talking to him was useless now. I had to voice my mistake to halt his onslaught. Problem was I hadn't the slightest clue what I had done wrong. I wonder if I forgot to- a swift knee implants in my ribs breaking my thought. My arms drop from my face in agony when my fight or flight instinct kicks in. Rising quickly, I duck under a hooking right fist and dart to the door. Flinging it open it quickly I began sprinting down the hallway. While running I remember learning of that instinct in my psychology class. But this is the first time I have consciously experienced it.

     Seriousness of the situation returns as I hear the door behind me slam into the wall. At this point I've already reached the stairs and leap over the ledge. I land 7 to 8 steps down immediately losing my balance, tumbling to the bottom. Lying on the ground uncomfortably squirming I wait for my breath to return. The breath that was knocked out of me begins slowly coming back. My dad reaches the top of the stairs and we make eye contact as he pauses. He reminds me of a predator sizing up their prey before attacking. He swiftly heads down the stairs locked in on me. Sitting up as fast as my injured body will allow, I return to my feet in one quick motion. Staggering towards the door I realize my breath has not completely returned. My left hand embraces the doorknob on the front door as I lean on the wall with my right. I squeeze it while turning, hearing the rush of air exhale as the door cracks open. His feet slam on the wooden floor behind me just as the light begins invading the shade in our home.

    Inhaling fully I open the door and bolt out but have to slow down from dizziness. Each breath I intake sends an increasingly sharp pain through my ribs. I know I can outrun my dad, it might be the only advantage I have on him. But at the pace I'm jogging my body won't hold up for long. My pace starts deteriorating and I know it won't be long before he catches up. Swiveling my head just enough I catch a glimpse of where he is. My peripheral vision reveal his red sweaty face, determined yet eerily calm, about 20 steps behind, gaining on me. I face forward and continue to run, still picturing his perfect marine form bearing down on me. This shoots a chill up my spine. My focus returns to me as each step becomes harder and increasingly painful. Must. Keep. Pushing. I turn along another street cutting the corner as tightly as possible. Inhaling fully becomes intolerable due to the pain in my ribs. I see a few familiar trees and remember our neighborhood is right next to a wooded area. Deciding my chances might be better there I change direction abruptly and hop a small fence landing in a backyard. Sprinting I quickly reach a larger fence and stretch out grasping the top as pain intrudes my entire right side. I can't slow down. I ignore it letting my momentum carry me over the top, dropping me with a thud on the opposite side.

Rolling to my stomach, I brace myself and rise. I fight the urge to hunch over while slowly staggering forward, waiting to catch my wind. Halting it suddenly hits me. Where's is he? I begin tiptoeing listening intently for unordinary noise. The exertion from this form begins to take its toll so I stop to rest. My breath is barely returning to me when I hear a snap. Swinging my head violently to my right I find my dad flipping over a fence. During his downfall he brings along a piece of fence with him and his feet thud on the ground. I back away quickly, preparing to run. But I know I won't hold up long and relinquish this idea. He crouches to a low stance and begins stalking me. I've seen him use this same technique before while watching him teach recruits how to grapple. He closes the distance quickly building up his speed then rising forcefully. He swipes at me with the sharp end of the fence piece narrowly missing. I stagger back and he quickly flips the piece in his hand. He fakes a swing one way causing me to dodge to my right. But he's already swinging in the opposite trajectory when I steady myself. Instantly I feel my flesh tearing on the lower side of my chest from the backswing. My searing flesh doesn't tear apart smoothly and I fall to the ground in immense pain. Rolling around in agony seems to ignite my previous wounds. Don't let him see your pain! Forcing my body stagnant I stare up at him defiantly, trying to suppress my sounds of suffering. He hovers me with the bloody fence piece held tightly in his limp arm. Mounting my increasingly limp body he stops inches from my face staring at me, without a blink. He cocks his fist back then all of a sudden he stops as I hear a noise. He must hear it too as he turns his head. Again a voice booms all around us, Hey don't make me tell you again! The voice sounds eerily similar and is coming from all directions.

Chapter 2

Returning to his feet he's now backing away as if frightened. Barely able to lift my head I follow his steps of retreat. As he looks down upon me in horror, I don't think anything could break the petrified gaze. The booming voice returns, Don't make me come up there! All of a sudden the sky starts to quickly evaporate. Changing, taking on the form of what looks like a ceiling wait that's MY ceiling! The scenery completely alters to that of my room. I begin trying to calm my breathing as my body is waking up. It was just a dream. I hear footsteps approaching. My dad busts open the door and yells, For the last damn time get your ass up! My cover beneath me is ripped away, tossing me off my bed I land with a solid thump. I'm leaving to go play golf, you need to get up and mow the yard then water before it gets too hot, he says sternly. Yes sir I robotically respond while looking up at him. He turns and walks out slamming the door on his exit.

    Lying on the floor I wait for reality to set back in. I groggily sit up, stand and make my bed. Sluggishly I tread downstairs to take my daily pill. The same pill I've taken every day for over 13 years, normally a subconscious procedure. These pills are used to control my anger and from the way my dad complains each time I run out, they are not easy or cheap to get. I grab a pill from the bottle and pop it in my mouth. I feel it slide down my throat while washing it down with a few sips of water. Usually I don't pay much attention to it, but now that I was thinking about it I notice the chalkiness and don't enjoy it. My stomach growls now that it's been awoken from its slumber. I turn on the stovetop and set a large pan on the progressively red rings. I begin grabbing breakfast foods from the fridge. I proceed to cook eggs, potatoes and lastly drop sausage on the pan making a satisfyingly smooth sizzle. I warm tortillas and impatiently wait as the minutes pass. After everything is cooked I make myself breakfast tacos consisting of this with of course the addition of my favorite food, cheese. The warmth wakes me up a little with each bite. The combination of mixed tastes and textures all wrapped up adjusts my mood. With the last bite in my mouth I glance at the microwave; it reads 8:22 am. By the time I chug down a glass of apple juice I feel energized and jog upstairs. I know I need to get dressed quickly and head outside to mow the lawn. After hastily changing I grab my phone and slide my earphones in. I head down the stairs starting the music as I reach the bottom. I open the door to the garage then proceed inside.

    I head to the lawn mower in the corner, check the gas and inspect everything meticulously before starting it up. A trait picked up over the years from my dad without much choice. Borderline OCD, another term I learned of in my psychology class. I always believed my dad being a marine corporal required this trait. Being very detail oriented to where it became second nature. The music begins breaking my concentration so I pause it until I'm done checking it. Resuming the music I start it up and began to mow. Immediately I feel the sticky humid air as well as the hot sun beaming down on my skin. Every now and then a light breeze disguises the sensation of my skin burning. About an hour passes and I've finished mowing the front and back yard. Fairly sweaty I return to the garage to search for the weed eater. I find it and once again pause the music so I can think clearly. I pick it up from the same corner and after meticulously, yet unnecessarily, going over it top to bottom I start it up. After 20 minutes pass I finish, then begin fertilizing. This doesn't take very long so I water the front as well as the back shortly after. I clean everything and return it to its exact spot then head back inside.

    Cool air embraces my warm body on the way to the shower. Turning the knob and stepping in, cold water beading down my body is even better. I plunge face first into the icy spray letting it slowly cool me. As the water steadily ricochets off my face I drift off. The dream I had the previous night pops into my head. That was a little more intense than usual. I frequently had nightmares about my father but not usually that vivid. Shortly I return to reality and finish showering. I step out, dry off and head to my room to get dressed. It was Sunday so I check my backpack for homework. I have a few math assignments left so I pull them out and lay them on my desk. I sit down and knock them out fairly quickly. As I'm sliding them back into my backpack I turn my watch face up seeing it's 12:55p.m. My stomach begins growling so I head downstairs to eat. I make a sandwich, practically inhale it, then gulp down a glass of water to wash it down. I begin to wash the dirty dishes in the sink. Just as I'm on the final dish I hear the garage door opening and recognize my dad's truck pulling in.

    Hey come outside and help me with my truck, My dad says peeking through the door. I head outside and help him change the oil in his truck as well as check his engine thoroughly. We replace the coolant, change the tires and triple check everything to make sure its running smoothly. At the age of 12 my dad began to teach me how to help him with his truck and I have ever since. By the time we finish it must be late in the afternoon because the sun is further than halfway to the horizon. My dad throws some meat on the grill so I grab my phone, pop my headphones in and go for a run. Something about running just clears my mind and puts it at peace. Running was my outlet every single day after my mother passed when I was 9. Always gifted with speed but during that stint I learned to push my body to its limits increasing my stamina. The warm yet crisp breeze hits my face as I jog through my neighborhood. As always I get lost in my run watching the clouds alive with movement, kids playing in their front yards, trees swaying peacefully in the spring breeze. This reminds me of the simple beauty that still exists in the world. The light in the darkness, it may be dimming but it's still there. Before I know it my playlist ends so I head back. A substantial sweat has built up so I begin walking the last half mile trying to cool off. Reaching the garage door I open it and walk upstairs to take a shower. This time when I plunge my warm face in the cold shower a flashback is triggered. My mom's hair blowing in the wind as she sits next to my dad on a bench. They sit so happily, her head tilted on his shoulder smiling so gracefully. It was the same bench she used to sit on when she would take me to the park to play. Focus. Focus on something else. But I just couldn't. Memories of her begin flooding my mind in the form of a montage. I feel my adrenaline rising, eyes fighting tears, blood pumping, until a lump rises in my throat from the sadness I feel.

Chapter 3

Dinner's ready, get down here! my dad yelled. Luckily this broke up the visual slideshow of my mother. I begin trying to get a hold of myself. To rid my voice of emotion, then I yell back, I'm getting out of the shower now Dad! With a towel around my waist I open the door. Instantly an invigorating smell enters my nostrils. My dad sure could cook meat, and the seasoned brisket smells delectable. My mouth begins watering on the way to my room. I throw on some clothes then head downstairs. A plateful of brisket is waiting on the dining table. After sitting down I stab a piece of brisket with my fork and drop it in my mouth. It's tender yet crisp on the exterior, perfect for my taste. I want to savor each and every bite but my hunger overtakes this desire. After dinner I start washing the dishes and hear my dad walk up behind me. I love you son, He softly stutters as he puts his hand on my shoulder. What the hell did he just say? Am I having another dream? I hadn't heard him use the L word since before mom passed. Ummthanks dad, I barely exhale. He walks away before I can even grasp my mixed emotions and thoughts to logically speak. Why do I always think of what to say to people after they've walked away? Almost a year removed since he'd stopped the beatings, the effects were still strongly imprinted on me. He rarely showed me any hint of emotion, or anybody else for that matter. He started acting this way soon after mom had passed. As I cleaned my plate something else hit me. He made the brisket the exact way I liked it, which he also never does. I had become accustom to eating medium rare which was the way he liked it. I can't believe I didn't notice. After years of getting treated like one of his soldiers I didn't even know how to reflect on the situation. Do I even love him?

The sunset was shines through the blinds of my room. While lying down I check my phone seeing that my dad had sent me a text to let me know he'd be working late. I might still be up when he gets home with all the thoughts that will be running through my head tonight. The clock on my dresser reads 8:11 p. m. so I roll over hoping to tire soon. The flow of thoughts from the abnormal day floods my mind. Why did my dad say he loved me? Why now? After a decade of detachment? Images of my mom seemingly pick up where they had left off in the shower. I always hated having such a vivid visual memory. I head to the bathroom, look in the mirror, exhale, and release angry tears of confusion. I know it is best not to fight it but to let it all out before it bottles up. I learned this from a school counselor when I was 15. I went through a stage of constant anger. It seemed every time I tried to hold it in I would verge on blacking out. Then one night I started getting tunnel vision from an episode of fury and decided to cut myself. It sure seemed to work as the adrenaline kept pumping but in a soothing, releasing fashion. The build up of anger would happen so often it became a cycle of reaching the point of almost blacking out, then the climax of the blade slicing across my arms. What I think is a big misunderstanding is that not everyone who cuts themselves wants death or is crying out for help. That sure wasn't what I was doing. Always staying on my upper arms away from serious arteries and also so I could hide the scars easily. But of course someone eventually saw. One day in class I mistakenly scratched my arm forgetting about the fresh scabs. They broke open sending blood streaming down my arm. Of course I was sent to the nurse who sent me to my school counselor after seeing my arms.

I still remember her very well and always will, Mrs. Pacheco. We talked about everything to do with her life and when I got comfortable, mine as well. She helped me to not hold things inside the way I was doing, ending my pre-blackouts. It became natural and I hadn't had an episode since. This led to me not having the urge to cut myself anymore. This was her original goal but she also helped prepare me for unseen obstacles of anger. She helped me find outlets for the anger even if it reached a high enough level to feel light headed or black out. She taught me mental self-control as well as stability. One of the most significant influences in my life and I will always remember her saying this, Until you learn to wish peace upon your gravest enemies you will never truly win the war. I still to this day don't fully comprehend it but I love the poetic essence involved.

I looked forward to meeting with Mrs. Pacheco each day. During this time I secluded myself from society more than ever. This even included my best friend Lisa, but there was actual reasoning behind that. She had been my best friend since before I could even remember. We grew up together always being close and this was the first time we didn't speak. I remember it just like it was yesterday. She stormed up to me after school and pushed me. Why would you do that Kaden! It was blatantly obvious she had found out about my cutting. Great! Now the whole school is probably talking about it, I returned with my voice raised. I didn't tell anyone you idiot! You're selfish you know that Kaden King! I sarcastically responded, Don't scold me using my full name, ok mom? Tears began to form in her eyes as she mellowed her mood and tone, I was just worried about you that's all. We hadn't talked much in the last month due to her new boyfriend's jealousy of our friendship. I was supposed to understand since we'd been friends for so long. Of course she had to date the douchebag star varsity quarterback. Well why don't you just go worry about you're boyfriend? Doesn't he have a game tonight anyways? He might need a stress reliever' before if you know what I mean? I said this half angrily, half sarcastically but I knew where I was aiming this below the belt shot. She said nothing, just stared at me for about half a minute without blinking. Then she walked up to me very slowly. Right when she got close I felt a knee to the groin. While hunched over in agony she sent a right uppercut to my nose breaking it. I was grateful no one was around to see it because my excuse that she was in boxing wouldn't have flied.

This was the only time we'd had a true argument. Luckily that was over three years ago and we have mended our friendship since. She once asked about me being jealous based off that fight. Really annoyed, I told her to never bring up that incident again and she didn't. Deep down I did hate seeing her with another guy, I just couldn't help it. And it didn't help the feeling when that guy got in between our friendship. Knowing her almost my whole life caused me to feel increasingly protective as the years passed. I actually planned on asking her to my senior prom sometime soon which was about a month away. Typically I despised all of that clich stuff, but she likes it so I thought I'd take her. And it doesn't hurt that she's attractive. When she hit 14 I began to notice her more, and at 15 her beauty blossomed becoming unmistakable. It was an awkward time for me trying to adjust to her newfound beauty as well as all the attention it brought. But looks are only skin deep definitely not worth ruining our great friendship. I always chose to ignore her attractiveness as well as my jealousy. I felt like it was the same type of jealousy an older brother should have for a younger sister, that's all. Plus she could have anyone she wanted due to her popularity. And she never showed any interest in me besides the caring of a great friend. Not too long ago I wouldn't of even considered taking her due to the hypocrisy it poses. But I gave up on battling hypocrisy over a year ago. I had formed my own opinion that one doesn't always have to be so black and white. There is a grey area to every situation, even against or for the strongest of one's principles. It seemed easier, yet lazier to just have guidelines you choose to follow no matter what, other than making your own choices based on each individual situation. My face relaxes, smirking as I think of all this. Suddenly I come to and glance down at my watch reading 3:33 a.m. Well at least I didn't expect to get much sleep tonight. I don't even remember where I started to get to this point. I walk back to my room, lie down and forcibly keep myself up for my nightly prayer, Dear father, please forgive me for all the sins I have committed today. Please protect me, all my family and all my friends from danger, fear, hurt, pain, sin, death, bad dreams, and bad thoughts. Thank you for all of your blessings. I love you father, and in Jesus name I pray, Amen. I feel myself dozing off very quickly as my hands are still clasped together. First I see my mother sitting on a park bench, smiling. Then my father joins her with a serious demeanor. He tells her something in her ear then rushes her away, so I follow. I call out to them,Guys wait! Please! But they are moving too fast, and I quickly lose them. I look around and am now left in an open field, alone all alone.

Chapter 4

The blaring noise of my alarm startles me from my deep sleep. Rolling over, I turn it off knowing I will regret my lack of sleep throughout the day. I shower, get dressed and eat breakfast. Afterwards I sit and wait on the couch. I wish I had enough money for my own car already. My dad always told me that he had to work for his first car and I would have to do the same. I had a little over two thousand dollars saved up from working every summer for the past 4 years. But that wouldn't take me too far in anything decent. I finally knock on his door but he doesn't answer. After waiting a full minute I decide to crack it open, Dad I'm ready for school!, but no response still. Knowing better than to go into his forbidden room, I just wait on the couch. It wasn't like my dad to be late ever so I open the door to the garage to find it empty. It reads 7:44 a.m. on my watch. Just as I make up my mind to walk to school and am leaving my dad barges in through the front door.

Sit down son, he says urgently. His face is very clammy. I have a very important assignment I am going to now and I have no idea when I will return, He holds out a wad of cash, this should take care of whatever you need. Promptly after grabbing it he reaches out and hugs me. I stand in his tightly clenched arms, beyond confused. So many questions run through my head as I try to make sense of it all. The first one comes out is, What about my rides to school? So stupid. I sound so business-like when he's finally showing me a sliver of compassion. But why should I even care? It's his fault I'm like this. Gently pushing me away, he keeps his hands on my shoulders while speaking softly, It will all be taken care of. Our eyes meet for the first time since he rushed in. I see sorrow, compassion, soberness, and evenlove? Grabbing my backpack he breaks our gaze. Let me make sure you have everything you need for school. As he rummages through my backpack I get lost somewhere between thoughts and memories. I snap out of it shortly after, Dad, you know I always stay on top of that. Oh that's right I forgot, he hands it back to me. Looking back up at me until we make eye contact again he says, I love you son, I always have then he leaves. The door shuts and the sound of his boots fade away with each step he takes.

What the hell is going on? The past days have felt so surreal. I begin praying, asking god to send me a blatant sign to explain what's going on with my dad. Before sitting down I pull my wallet out of my back pocket. I lay the cash on the table and began to count it. 100,200,300,400,500wait what? There was a lot of money, too much, so I started re-counting. After counting it 5 times over I knew I wasn't mistaken. He had left me $2,259; did he still remember that my favorite number was 59? There is no way. The only way he could possibly know that is I asked him for that jersey number when I played baseball. I was 7 at the time and he was the coach of my team. It must just be coincidence. Looking at my watch it reads 8:22 so I rise from the chair. I punch in the alarm code then lock the door after I'm outside. Then I began to walk to school. A neighbor waves with a smile so I return the favor minus the smile. I felt like smiling inside, but it never made its way to surface. This seemed common with me as far back as I could remember. A realization reappeared; with the exception of a handful of people I never really let out my emotions. I grew up as an extrovert so something must have altered that side of me. I remember it happening shortly after my mom passing. But I don't remember consciously changing and am pretty sure her passing wasn't the cause. Feeling overwhelmed with all my thoughts I slide my earphones in and start playing music to drown them out.

My house was exactly 2.22 miles away from the school. Arriving halfway through my 3rd period class I head straight for the restroom. I'm drenched in sweat and decide to stay in the restroom to cool off. I repeatedly splash cold water on my face then dry off with paper towels. The bell sounds for 4th period so I run through this cycle one last time. Then I leave the restroom and head to my math class. My goal was to rid myself of enough sweat to not feel it when seated. But all my efforts in the restroom were to no avail. My class basically consists of me trying my best to not fall asleep while also pretending I'm paying attention. Eventually losing I drift off. The bell wakes me signaling it's time for lunch; also time for me to end my dehydration. After grabbing 3 gatorades and a plate of lunch I sit in my usual spot. My appetite has vanished, overtaken by my avid thirst. After downing two gatorades my stomach begins turning upon itself. I know I have to eat or I'll have to endure an upset stomach the rest of the day. Halfway through my meal Lisa approaches me, Hey stranger! she says happily as she sits across from me. After all that had happened recently it was still impossible to hold back my smile. Hey I want to talk to you after school about something, I said seriously. What, were you gonna ask me to prom Mr. King? She melodramatically said this, teasing me and batting her eyelashes with an overzealous smile. I couldn't help but laugh but knew she had no clue that I really did plan on it. No seriously it's about my dad. Ok well you know that I have basketball practice today, so I'll come over right after. Hey on another note, has your cell phone been working today? Everyone has been talking about having no signal and only being able to make emergency calls. I reach in my pocket and pull mine out, Yep, mines saying the same thing that's weird. The bell rings so I toss our lunch trays in the closest trash. I walk her to her classroom, I'll see you after school Lisa.

The rest of the day passes by fairly quickly. Mondays are usually time for turning in homework then a lecture on the new chapter. Each time I glance at a clock it seems over an hour has passed. After zoning out through the majority of my final class, I come to, glancing at the clock reading 3:11p.m. Just 19 more minutes. I yank my phone out of my pocket forgetting that it's still locked in emergency mode. A cell phone tower probably crashed or wasn't working somewhere nearby. I wonder what required my dad's assistance, he almost nev- the bell rang.

I stroll out of my classroom and head towards the nearest water fountain. I have a long, hot walk home ahead of me. I forcibly drink the water, downing it until I feel water logged. I continue towards the stairwell and follow the flowing crowd of classmates downstairs. Reaching the back of the school I exit, passing the basketball gym where I know inside Lisa is practicing. I decide to use the walk home to gather my thoughts. This way I'll know where to start when I discharge them on her. By the time I reach my house a conclusion had been reached as well. Decided, it would make the most sense telling her chronologically trying not to miss any details. I felt that there were only 3 people I could ever openly express my feelings to. One was Lisa, one Mrs. Pacheco, and the last was dead.

I prop my feet up on the couch. Now that my dad wasn't here I had no reason to follow his rules, I could truly relax. Putting my arms behind my head I lean back. I stare at the ceiling until I see the faces of my mom, Mrs. Pacheco, and Lisa. The warmth I feel inside is indescribable; before I know it I doze off.

I'm awoken by a loud blaring siren. I sit up startled; I've never heard this sort of siren before. I head to my front door and open it, hearing it even louder now. Almost all of my neighbors are standing outside either talking or looking bewildered. The more I wake up the more confused I get. I head back inside and turn on the tv. A lady is talking in a very serious, scared tone, Citizens of America, this is not a drill. There is a national disaster headed towards all major cities. Mandatory evacuation is required. Military camps will be set up along evacuation routes. The fear begins escaping her now trembling voice, If you live in one of the following cities you must follow these instructions immediately New York, Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, Fort Worth, Florida, Houston As soon as she said Houston I stopped listening. That's where I lived.

Chapter 5

I quickly stood up but was frozen. This was impossible to digest and sat as a lump in my throat. After slowly unscrambling my thoughts a sobering fear of the unknown sets in. All of those people in all of those cities. Including my cityall the people I know, people I care aboutLisa! She must still be at practice! Frantically I scramble around my house without even knowing what I'm looking for. It hits me that I'm going to have to run to the school since I have no other way to get there. I pat my jean pockets hunting for my wallet. I must of left it in my backpack! I begin to rummage through it quickly removing everything and setting it on the table. I pull my binder out of my backpack and hear a jingle as something hits the floor. Right away I recognize my dad's truck keys and see a folded piece of paper lying on the ground. Checking the keys I see they are all there. Yes! I pick up the note and begin unfolding it, working backwards. As I open the final half fold a small computer chip falls to the ground. I pick it up and closely examine it, trying to decipher what it was for. My mind is overloaded with enough right now. So I give up and my attention drifts to the open letter. My dad's handwriting was unmistakable,

Dear Kaden,

    Son I don't have much time so I will cut to the chase. I most likely will never see you again. By the time you read this I will already be dealing with the chaos that's probably already begun in our country. That is why I left so quickly. I left you the keys to my truck as well as keys to all of the secret compartments in it. They will help you protect yourself and survive. I am so sorry for all of the years of crap I put you through. Just know that it wasn't malicious and was necessary to protect a greater cause. Get out of the city and stay away from all the major cities. Keep moving, keep your guard up and know that what you will be facing is something you can't begin to imagine. I have always loved you son. Regardless of how I've acted, I hope you see the purpose someday and can forgive me for my faade. That chip I left you is so you can use your phone again as well as not be tra-

It was another huge amount of information I didn't have the luxury of time to digest. I refocus, vigorously trying to insert the chip into my phone. After examining it I take out my sim card and compare it to the chip to find they match perfectly. I slide the chip in and power on my phone. I realize quickly all of my contacts are still on my sim card. Luckily I know Lisa's number by heart, dialing it instantly but hear her voicemail after no rings. I forgot that her phone, actually everyone's phone, wasn't working. I begin trying to change my mindset while throwing my backpack over my shoulder. I open the garage door and hop in my dad's truck. After hitting the garage door opener I pull out. My dad never helped me get a car but he taught me how to drive at 11. He's let me drive with him more than enough times to feel comfortable. While speeding through my neighborhood I couldn't help but notice the sky. It was a polluted red-orange, as if the sky was burning down. A cold sensation ran through me. I pushed harder on the pedal in my best attempt to ignore it. I sharply cut corners through my emptying neighborhood, avoiding the scrambling chaos as best I can. People are scurrying everywhere trying to load their cars to leave. After exiting the neighborhood I try to avoid the cracked pavement spewed everywhere. The nervousness begins setting as I can now see our high school in the distance. As I get closer I see a nearby neighborhood blazing fire from a few rooftops. In my peripheral vision I pick up a bigger inferno, my focus shifts back in that direction to find it coming from the school.

Chapter 6

    I jerk the emergency brake, screeching until I slide to an abrupt stop. I fling the door open breathing in burning rubber as I take off. I head in the direction of the basketball gym. If I were thinking straight I would have parked in the opposite parking lot. But of course I hadn't. I'd chosen the parking lot on the opposite side of the school. Weaving around the buildings I feel heat dispersing energy as I get closer. When I reach my destination the front entrance has flames sneaking out of every exit hole. I sprint to the back; same luck. I head to the east side of the building and scan for windows absent of a bright orange color. I only notice a few on the 2nd floor. I run to the other side, to find my fate equaled. While standing still I slow my breathing. Something in me snaps. I shoot up the wall using the corner window seal to propel me. Simultaneously I grab the side of the water gutter using it to pull me up. My hands hold onto the 2nd floor window seal. I slowly pull myself up, steady myself while standing, and then kick the glass shattering it. Using my foot I knock off the remaining shards of glass. I put my feet in first while sitting on the seal. Rolling to my stomach I hear glass crunching as I ease myself to the floor. The smoke burns my lungs terribly as well as my eyes. I crouch setting my hand on the ground instantly withdrawing from pain. I had forgotten about the glass and was reminded by a handful of it. Staying crouched low to the ground I begin moving while covering my mouth. Luckily I can see decent considering the circumstances. I know this building well enough to recognize I'm in the boy's locker room. The dark grey seems to stay high enough in the air for me to reasonably breathe. All I can hear is burning. Lisa! I shouted. Lisa! Can you hear me? I make it to the hallway using the walls as guidance. I reach the girls locker room and keep calling out for her. My hope was diminishing slightly with every unanswered yell. I could hear it waning in my own voice. Searching the entire locker room proves useless. The 2nd floor had only locker rooms so I head to the stairwell. Halfway down I can't stand the intense heat and remember the glowing orange coming from each window on the 1st floor. My eyes are puffy, filling with desperate tears. I know her; she would have come for me if she'd made it out of here. Did she not make it out? It was a touch pill to swallow as the entire situation. The building was dying; the wood creaking, the smell of rubber burning, the floor shaking unsteadily beneath my feet. Helplessness took over. Feeling lost I wander my way back to where I'd come in. Just when I turn to the entrance of the boy's locker room a small line of light penetrates through the darkened smoke. I didn't notice it when I came in; seeping from a crack at the end of the hall. Drawn in by curiosity I work my way to find its source. When it is within my reach I see a fire escape in the ceiling. Never had I noticed it before but saw a string hanging from it. Hope began returning as my grasped hand pulled it. Light floods down on me accompanied by a set of stairs. I rush up to the roof to see her there sitting with her back to me. Lisa! I yell in excitement. But she doesn't budge. I circle around to face her and see a girl lying limp in her lap, tears streaming down her face. That girl was Gina, Lisa's 9 year old little sister.

Chapter 7

    Lisa had dried tears spilt down her face. She seemed to be completely out of it. Lisa! I wave my hand it front of her face but she doesn't blink. Placing my hands on her shoulders I ask loudly, What's wrong with Gina? I feel a weak pulse when my finger dreadfully reaches her neck. Both of their bodies were charred black. I put my ear next to her mouth and hear nothing which sends me into a panic. Prying Gina from Lisa's grip isn't easy, but I lie her down and begin small quick chest compressions. Anxiety escalates to my throat. My dad always told me not to blow into a person's mouth; just do compressions. I can hear him as clear. The way he always spoke, drilling things into my head. As I snap back to reality worry reaches me again. I had done a lot of compressionstoo many. Lisa! Do you have any-A weak congested cough escapes Gina's throat. Exhaling in relief I mutter to myself, Thank god. She lies in my arms slowly returning to me. After a while she sits up under her own power and begins rubbing her eyes. Glancing at Lisa, I notice she hasn't budged an inch since I first reached the roof. I round to face her, Hey, what's wrong? waving back and forth in front of her face. She's clearly in shock and I don't know how to pull her out of it. Returning to Gina's side I ask, What happened? while putting my arm around her. It's my best attempt to add comfort to this very uncomfortable situation. Trembling she replies through a shaky voice, The last thing I remember is being thrown over her shoulder and her runningthen I blacked out. I put things back in perspective, Well Gina we can look for a way back down and hopefully she'll snap out of it by then. She is still pretty shaken up so I begin looking by myself. Pulling open the emergency hatch I feel immense heat. It felt just the way it did when you open an oven door while it was still on. As soon as I poke my head through the wave of heat I see the fire had made its way up the stairwell. Becoming mesmerized I watch its immense fury, glowing with such passion. This is intervened by an unexpected cracking sound as the building shifts. I scrambled back to my feet and hurry to the edge of the roof. Peeking over the side I search for an escape route frantically. My eyes scan quickly unable to find a way down. Think, think! I hear a louder, much closer crack ending with a small screech. I feel my adrenaline rise, pumping through my blood from my head down to my fingertips, and now making its way back. Wait! The awning! I rush back to the ledge on the west side of the building where about a story below I find the awning. I might be able to handle a jump straight down but I know the girls can't, especially in their current state. I see a rain gutter running down the corner of the building right along the side of the awning. Hurriedly I run back to the center of the roof to find Gina trying to console Lisa without success. She was still stuck in a frozen stare. We have to go! Now guys! Gina worriedly looks up at me, She's not responding to anything! Kaden do something, Please! The building groans, knowing it's on its last legs. Shaking her shoulders doesn't work. Screaming, pleading, calmly asking, smacking her, nothing seems to break her unflinching stare. I'm gonna have to get you down firstthen I'll take your sister down myself. Her uncertainty was apparent, No! I won't leave her! Her eyes fill up with tears as she looks around, searching for an alternative. Trust me Ginait's the only way, I say as calmly as I can muster, hiding the stress in my voice. Tears run down her face as she turns to face me next to the edge. The scared look in her eyes makes me focus even more. I lower myself using the rain gutter and get a steady hold on a crevice on the building's side. Use me to climb down She takes baby steps to the edge when the building moans loudly as it shifts once again. I could feel that one. Quickly she retreats from the edge as fear seizes her. Gina! You can do this. She timidly inches back to the edge but hesitates to lift her feet up. My patience fades quickly, Damn it if you don't hurry your sister will die! This seems to hit home swiftly as she wipes her face on her sleeve, stands up on the edge, her face stern with determination. She puts her feet on my shoulders. I then free my right hand guiding her as she carefully walks down the side of the building. Tightly clenching her wrist I feel her stop. I look down to see that her feet were a few yards from to the awning. I begin swinging her slightly back and forth. Doing this until I build up the momentum to what I think I need to make sure she lands in the middle. Brace yourself! Roll with it when you land, don't try to fight your momentum, I say loudly. You're gonna have to release your grip so I can drop you down, she pulls her fingernails from my skin. 123! I release my grip at the top of my swing. She gasps when landing smoothly rolling to her side on impact. Are you ok? She readies herself to jump to the grassy ground, Yes. Now go get my sister!

    I face the murky inferno left of a sky. Setting my right hand back into the crevice I began to climb. I reach the ceiling quickly and find Lisa in the same position gazing off into the distance. I run a few steps until my hands land on her shoulders. After more failed attempts of snapping her out of it I knew I was going to have to carry her. As I pull her limp body to her feet I can feel the weight is greater than expected. That along with my body starting to wear down from everything I had put it through recently. As I throw her over my shoulder I glance at the smoky sky, making out the sun was beginning to set. Each step I take towards the edge gets a little harder. Reaching the edge I kneel down and lay Lisa as gently as possible. I look over the side to find the crevice I had been using. Still crouched I face Lisa with my back to the edge. Suddenly a loud explosion followed with a shriek wobbles me from my balance as I fall backwards. My hands shoot out wildly, my right hand grazes the side of concrete. My fingertips close attempting to hold on but find only air. My right foot reaches out finding nothingness. My left hand follows my right, but hits the concrete much sooner, dragging along my forearm. This slows my momentum as I summersault sideways. My left foot follows in free fall and I can feel my arm take the brute force as the momentum violently stops. I teeter back and forth feeling a burning sensation throughout my forearm. Oh my god! Kaden! in the same shrieking voice I heard during the explosion, it was Gina. I'm ok! I got it! When my swaying ceases I use my free hand to grasp the edge pulling myself up, and then use just enough strength to flip over the edge. My breathing was heavy, the flesh in my forearm burning. Lying down I pick up my arm to assess the damage. Almost my entire inner forearm is bloody and through the blood are pieces of torn flesh. My breath begins to lighten when I notice movement in the corner of my eye. I instinctively jump to my feet defensively, only to find Lisa walking toward me with her eyes dead-locked on mine. Where is she? Where's Gina! she screams violently while lifting me up off the ground by my collar. Lisa, she's on the ground, just down below. She sets me back down to the ground and almost reactively the building begins groaning again. We have to get down before the building collapses. She walks much slower back towards me. You go first I don't think I'd be much help with my arm like this She steps over the edge walking on the side of the building as I hold out my right hand, lowering her as she descends using the rain gutter. She reaches full extension and then gracefully jumps to the awning without even losing her balance.

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